All pupils to face annual national test

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The Independent Online
NATIONAL TESTS have been so successful in motivating pupils that government examination advisers are preparing to introduce more of them. Officials at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority have discovered that compulsory tests for 14-year-olds, which start today for 600,000 candidates, make pupils work harder.

Pupils already face compulsory national tests in English, maths and science at the ages of 7, 11 and 14 and the authority offers optional tests at 8, 9 and 10. Now it is drawing up optional tests for pupils aged 12 and 13, meaning national tests will be possible in almost every year of a child's school career.

The proposed changes are the result of an investigation into why pupils who were well-motivated in primary school become disaffected in the first three years of secondary school and why they fail to make the expected progress between the ages of 11 and 14. Teachers used to find it hardest to motivate pupils during the third year in secondary school.

However, the introduction of tests has proved an incentive to 14-year- olds and motivation problems are now more common in the first two years in secondary schools. Officials believe tests in these two years might be helpful.

Research commissioned by both the authority and the Government has shown that some pupils actually go backwards during their first year in secondary schools. Advisers have been looking at ways in which the transfer from primary to secondary school might be eased after ministers expressed fears about its effects.

Optional tests for pupils at 8, 9 and 10 have proved extremely popular. About 90 per cent of schools have ordered copies of these for next year.

Some teachers, however, fear that schools are spending too much time trying to measure pupils' progress and not enough actually teaching them. They also believe that some of the testing at present carried out nationally should be left to schools.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said 10 days ago that national tests for 14- year-olds should be scrapped. He said: "The last thing we need is a rush into testing. These tests are an irrelevance. Most schools are testing children anyway. They are assessed right across the curriculum. From the age of 11, it is appropriate to move away from a concentration on English, maths and science to assessing pupils in all different subjects.

"I should be very surprised if schools take up these optional tests except as a substitute for their own exams."

David Hawker, head of curriculum and assessment at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said that he had been disappointed by Mr Dunford's comments.

"The tests for 14-year-olds give the only national measure of how pupils are performing during a crucial and often neglected period of their school career. Schools need to take them more seriously," he said.

"They need to look at the results and ask themselves why some pupils appear to have made little progress in the core subjects of English, maths and science since they left primary schools."